In the Beginning

Back to Genesis 1-3, in the bible reading plan.  Genesis is an amazing passage that sort of lays out the whole picture of the story of God’s redemption, in just a few verses.  Some thoughts:

  1. God created a perfect world, that didn’t include our total knowledge of good and evil. I always resented the fact that God didn’t want us to know everything about life…that His perfect world had us as innocent morons, who were just fat, dumb, and happy, like pigs on the farm.But then I look at my own children and think of all the things I don’t want them to know about life, at least for a very long time.  I love that they are perfectly happy playing the wii, going to school is a thrill for them, the love of their mom and dad is all-satisfying.When they are this little, I don’t want them to know the horrors capable by the human heart, the pain that comes from rejection, or disease, or shame.  I understand God’s design a little bit more.  And I, honestly, would love to return to that kind of innocence, when I am totally delighted and satisfied by God and his creation.  I think we all would.

    God was not keeping us in the dark…he was keeping us in the light, protecting us from the ugly reality of sin.  It was a perfect world.

  2. God himself made clothes for them. This is a fascinating image, of God hand-making clothes for his creations, who had just disobeyed him, betrayed him, turned their back on his perfect provision.  They were ashamed, but not by God.  This is an extremely important distinction: God was not ashamed of them!  Their shame and the humiliation of being naked was due to their own sin.  In fact, God even asked them, “who told you you were naked?”God’s first response to their sin was to get the facts, then curse the snake.  He did not lash out against the humans in anger, they way I sometimes do to my kids when they disobey explicit instructions.  He did, however, explain clearly the consequences they would face, but instead of piling onto their shame, he covered it.  He covered their nakedness, restoring their dignity and affirming their worth to him.This is a picture of the Gospel, as God continually covers our sin, first through the law and sacrifical system, then he would eventually deal with sin finally, himself, on the cross.
  3. God protected us from dooming ourselves to an eternity of separation from him. In verse 22-23, God banished Adam and Eve from the garden, “lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”  Again, on the surface, this seems like a wounded God who was hurt by Adam’s disobedience and wouldn’t let him have the perfect life again.  A God who took his ball and went home, as it were.  But if we read closer, we see a different picture.We have already seen God, with every right and every opportunity to pile on guilt and condemnation, respond by covering that shame.  We have seen him curse the real cause of the sin (the snake) and we know from the rest of the Bible how he will deal finally with sin by sending his own son to a brutal cross, bringing reconciliation and restoring the perfect life he started with.  We see a God with an intention of love and reconciliation.So why would this God prevent us from tasting eternal life?  This seems like further punishment, until we see that God is only preventing eternal separation from him.  He wants to be reonciled, and he will not allow us to taste eternal life, while we are separated by our sin.  This would be a fate worse than death.  This is hell.  So, in his mercy, God put an angel as a guard around the tree of life and death so we wouldn’t lock in our fate forever.

    Think again about our kids.  When one strays away in disobedience, whether it’s the rebellion of a 2 year old, or drug addiction of a lost teenager, what is our reaction?  A loving father would never settle for dooming his child to this life forever.  Rather, he would cover his shame (without adding to it), even if their are consequences.  A loving father would never close the door forever…never let their child go.

God will not allow us to remain in our sin and shame precisely because he loves us.  He wants to restore that perfect world he started with, but he must deal with the sin that separates us from him.

As I reflect on these verses, I am reminded of my own sin, and the shame I bring on myself.  I remember that God is not angry with me, and doesn’t add to that shame.  He only wants me to be reconciled with him, reconnected to the eternal life he created for me from the beginning.  I remember that he did come and deal decisively the sin that cast me out of the garden.

We can go back to the tree of life now.  That’s the great work that Jesus did…he gave us access to that eternal life…the tree that was hidden for our temporary good, is now on full display for our great eternal joy.

There’s the good news of the gospel, the story of God’s love, the great purpose of our lives, all wrapped in a few verses at the beginning of the book.  Pretty cool.

2009: A Year of Prayer

Just heard John Piper preach a message on prayer.  He usually takes the last and first week of every year to devote to the issue of prayer.  This message was one of the best I’ve ever heard.  If you are new to John Piper, he is one of my favorite teachers.

Definitely inside baseball for Christians, but his insight and passion are undeniable.  I owe a lot to John Piper.  He once said that if you rake the leaves on the surface all you get is piles of leaves.  But if you dig deep, you might find diamonds.

Let’s make prayer part of our search for diamonds this year, and may we not be satisfied with leafy piles that will blow away at the first strong wind.

Small Group Wrapup 11/20/08

Great night last night…the Haags were there, hungry and weary from a long day.  Mary and I had just finished playing soccer at Berean Academy against the upper school students and were worn out too.  Mary, we learned later that night, busted her big toe during the game and it was swollen pretty bad.  Needless to say, we all had our reasons to check out for the night.

Not to mention that our homework (Lesson 4) was a bear for all of us.  Some of us totally guessed on our answers, and some of us blanked completely.  This class is tough sledding, for sure.  I tried to encourage all of us that the goal of our small group is not to get all the answers right!  It is to let some of these ideas land in our hearts in a way that produces fruit.

Also, we need to remember that we learn more as a group, wrestling with difficult concepts together, than we could do all alone.  That’s kind of the point.  That’s why I like going deeper…it forces our brains to get engaged, and it forces us to work together in community.

I love starting the night with questions, and leaving with smiles on our faces because we discovered new things during our time together.  That is fruitful labor.  We are softening the ground where those nuggets can be planted, so that one day, when we need them, they will be ready to harvest.

So, be thankful for your questions!  Our collective confusion is a glorious thing!  I’m sure if the ground had feelings, it wouldn’t like being tilled and softened.  But it won’t be any good otherwise.

Explaining the Unexplainable

GFC Devo: Day 1

Today’s churchwide devotional looks at the events preceding the birth of Jesus, as told in Matthew 1:18-25, and Luke 1:26-38.  I’m glad both references are there, because we get to see the into the lives of both Mary and Joseph.

At first, Joseph doesn’t hear anything from God.  When he discovers that Mary is pregnant, he does a very respectable thing, and decides to divorce her quietly.  Unwed pregnancy was a shameful thing in those days, and he could have easily made a public spectacle of Mary.  Clearly this was not what he had bargained for, but he was a righteous man, and obviously loved her enough to spare her the indignity.

He instinctively followed the normal societal protocol for situations like this, but he was still wrestling with it.  Matthew 1:20 states that “…as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him” and told him what God was doing.  This was enough for Joseph…he was obedient from that day on.

Luke’s account focuses on Mary’s experience.  An angel came to her first, to let her know what was going to happen.  Her initial response was, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”  Again, her mind was not prepared for such strange news.  Once the angel explained that God was at work, she obeyed, and worshiped God.

Some thoughts emerge from this event:

  1. We read this story with a vantage point of knowing the whole story, but these two people only had their own experience to draw upon.
  2. Their knee-jerk reactions were based in that experience, and revealed a desire for things to remain as they were.  Joseph, even though he had doubts, did not hesitate to follow the social code and pursue divorce.  Mary’s first response was to state the obvious.  Neither was really open to God doing something totally miraculous.
  3. We shouldn’t be too harsh on them, though.  God had been silent for almost 400 years before this event.  The miracles of the Fathers of Israel were distant realities in that age.  Mary and Joseph had no categories for something like this.  We sort of shrug off their obedience now, because we read the story from the vantage point of seeing how it all played out.  We live in an age where the Holy Spirit’s power is regularly seen.  They had to take it on purely blind faith.
  4. Consider that what we now know to be “good news” was probably “bad news” to Mary and Joseph.  An unwed pregnancy was not on the radar for either of them.  They had been good, law-keeping Jews up to that point…righteous in every way.  They had saved themselves in purity, and then God came out of nowhere, and changed the course of their lives forever.  God was going to ruin the purity and righteousness they had worked for their entire lives.  How could he do this?  Why would he do this?
  5. Mary’s Magnificat, her song to the Lord, in Luke 1:46-56, are an even greater testimony to her faith.  She just heard that she was going to be an unwed mother in a culture that was hostile to sexual impurity, and yet, because God was doing it, she praised Him.  This was truly a sacrifice of praise.  Where did she get the strength to worship God in the midst of such an unexplainable  and devastating event?
  6. Imagine if we were in their shoes.  Joseph didn’t get any explanation from God until after he found out that Mary was pregnant.  Even then, I’m sure his visit from the angel didn’t exactly clear things up. This had never happened before in the history of humankind.  There was no simple explanation.  It would take 33 years for God to finish what he started that day.
  7. What gave them the ability to obey with joy?  How could they possibly respond rightly to such confusing news?  Even though Mary and Joseph had no idea what was going on, and their lives were turned upside down in an instant, God was clearly at work.  This fact is the only reason they could obey, with hope and joy.  God did not simply commandeer or “rescue” this situation to suit his purposes.  He caused it.  He was actively bringing these life-altering changes, these unexplainable events into their lives.

Can we apply this to our lives right now?  Are there things that happen to us, that are unexplainable, and run totally counter to the way our lives were going?  Are we experiencing left turns that are totally not where our lives were heading?  No one plans for the stock market to crash. No one plans for a loved one to die.  No one plans for cancer, or job changes, or unplanned pregnancy.

Sometimes we think, “God couldn’t have done this, because it’s totally out of left field, and I didn’t see it coming.”  If this is the case, and if God is truly bound to the whim of chance or the actions of men, then our only hope is to try and hold on to that life we were making for ourselves.

But there is great hope, in fact our only hope is in believing that God is actively working out his purposes in ways we cannot see yet. If we don’t believe this, then a verse like Romans 8:28 will lose all its meaning, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Our response, just like Mary and Joseph, indicates whether or not we truly believe it.  Do we respond by trying to hold on to “the way things are” or “the way we think they should be,” or can we believe in a big God who is doing big things according to his purpose and for our good?  One way produces unbelief and fear…the other produces joy-filled obedience in hope.

God is not “responding” to unexplainable things that happen in our lives…he is “working.”  I pray that we would take time to consider these things, as Joseph did.  Be open to God’s visitation, however strange that comfort might be.  Then, like Mary, we should turn our hearts to worship, and then be humbled that God would choose such a lowly servant to accomplish his good will.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

Conversation with Mali

Mali: “Dad, will we sin in Heaven?”

Me: “No.”

Mali: “Lucifer did.”

Me: *gulp*

What to do When Leadership is Wrong

In reading 1 Samuel 26 today, I was astounded by the timing of this story.  David is being pursued by Saul’s army, unjustly, and he decides to sneak into the camp at night.  He gets all the way in to the middle of the army who is sleeping, and kneels beside Saul, his enemy.  David’s friend Abishai, who helped him get there, wants to kill Saul, thinking the Lord has delivered him up to David. Clearly a sign of victory.

But David’s response is (v9), “Do not destroy him, for who can put out his hand against the Lord‘s anointed and be guiltless?” and further (v10), “As the Lord lives, the Lord will strike him, or his day will come to die, or he will go down into battle and perish.”  David escapes with Saul’s spear and jar of water and runs to safety.

Finally, Saul is awakened and David tells him, “23 The Lord rewards every man for his righteousness and his faithfulness, for the Lord gave you into my hand today, and I would not put out my hand against the Lord‘s anointed. 24 Behold, as your life was precious this day in my sight, so may my life be precious in the sight of the Lord, and may he deliver me out of all tribulation.”

Let’s be clear that Saul was clearly wrong.  Saul had heard of David’s presence in the wilderness of Ziph, and had brought 3,000 soldiers to root him out and kill him.  David’s sparing Saul was not because he didn’t have good reason.  No one in the world would have faulted David for quickly, honorably, slaying Saul in his sleep.  Imagine Abishai’s shock, when David decided to spare Saul.  He probably thought, “isn’t this why we came? We’ll never get another shot like this!”

To understand David’s bewildering decision to spare Saul, we must consider David’s motives.  His desire, according to v24, was to be “precious” in the sight of the Lord.  David, who was once the “apple of God’s eye,” had hope for something more than just the temporary pleasure of revenge.  He was under his own persecution, remember.  David was seeking his own relief and absolution.  He saw this situation as an opportunity to extend to Saul what he was seeking for himself.  By cherishing Saul, he would be cherished.  By freeing Saul, when he had the chance to kill him, he would be freed from his own tribulation.

How often do we have opportunity to take down our leaders, who are put there by God, according to Romans 13:1?  David understood two things: 1. when we act against the Lord’s anointed (no matter how they lead), we are taking our own blood in our hands, not theirs, and 2. we receive from God what we are willing to extend to others.  1,000 years later, God came to earth and told us the same thing (Luke 6:37-38).

So the next time we disagree with a leader, or are plainly wronged by them, and all the stars align to give us a clean shot to “make things right,” I pray that we would be more like David than Abishai…that we would have a greater desire to be cherished by God, and rest in the hope that it is God who is really at work, not man.

David’s unusual response led to Saul’s repentence, blessing and peace.  This is what Christians should be fighting for.

Strong Strength

Proverbs 24:10-12

10 If you faint in the day of adversity,
your strength is small.
11 Rescue those who are being taken away to death;
hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.
12 If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,”
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it,
and will he not repay man according to his work?

This verse hit me like a ton of bricks today.  Some thoughts: 

  1. The “if” at the beginning presupposes that a day of adversity will come. 
  2. This day of adversity isn’t our day of adversity, it is someone else’s trial that we are present to witness. 
  3. The strength mentioned in verse 10 is meant to be used for the directive in verse 11. 
  4. Because “rescuing” is the nature of the purpose of our strength (why we have it in the first place), then God is right in judging us according to verse 12.  
  5. God’s grace does not excuse us from using our strength to save the lost, any more than the sky can be excused from being blue.  Rescuing the lost or hurting is the reason we have strength. 
  6. Verse 12 mentions the heart and the soul before it mentions our external work, suggesting that these are heart matters, not external strength or works.  God is exhorting us to be strong of heart and soul so that we can fulfill the commands of verse 11. 
  7. God is exhorting us to be true to the (new) heart that is within us.  This “heart” language is all throughout proverbs as the seat of the character of a man, and the wellspring of his actions. This calls to mind Ezekiel 36:26 (“I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh).  The intended use of this new heart is to rescue people who are lost and endangered. 

Clearly, then, the “strength” of verse 10 is not the strength of our actions, or physical strength, but rather the strength of our heart…our convictions, our theology, our maturity.  This calls to mind the idea of Luke 12:48, (to whom much has been given, much will be required).  This passage in Luke is not talking about money, talent, intelligence, or anything like that, however.  Jesus is talking about the same kind of issue raised in Proverbs 24: people who have been given a gift intended to help others. 

Jesus tells the story about servants who are put in charge of the estate when the master is gone.  Some are good stewards and give food to the other servants at the appointed time.  Others, when they hear that the Master is delayed, begin to beat the other servants, and then get fat and drunk on the food and wine that is supposed to go to everyone.  

Jesus said that the servants in charge (who know what to do, yet refuse to do it) will be treated more harshly than those who never knew what to do while the Master was gone.  To quote Jesus, the Master will “cut him in pieces and put him with the unfaithful.”  Because of his actions?  No, because of his heart.  

There are many implications in this parable regarding the Kingdom ethic of the Emergent movement, but I think the clear indictment is for those responsible for sharing what they know with others, namely, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and Christians everywhere.  

Our actions (or non-actions) toward those in need of rescue belie the true condition of our heart.  Let us not have “weak” strength, but rather build up our nerve, our theology, our convictions, our maturity so that when that day of adversity comes (for us, or for those around us) we can be faithful to administer the Master’s food and drink to those who need it, until he returns.